Nick Saban’s football factory in Tuscaloosa continues to produce top end talent on both sides of the ball. Courtney Upshaw, a hand-down pass rusher, showed he could play the run and screen passes with an adeptness rarely seen from a speed end.
Hold on a second, because “speed” may not be the correct term when referring to Upshaw. It’s that word scouts love, motor, that stands out when you watch him play. That said, Upshaw’s weight has become an issue for the senior. Scouts at the combine didn’t see the explosiveness off the edge needed to beat premier tackles in the NFL. Saban has said Upshaw can play at outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense or with his hand down in a 4-3.
Upshaw’s weight issues and his relatively slow 40-yard dash time may push teams that are looking for an outside linebacker in another direction.
Weight: 272 Pounds
Born: December 13, 1989
Bench Press: 22 Reps at 225 pounds
Arm length: 32′ inches
Hands: 9′ inches
Upshaw did not take part in the timed drills at the combine.
2011: 13 GP 51 Tackles 17 Tackles For Loss 9.5 Sacks 1 Interception
2010: 13 GP 52 Tackles 14.5 Tackles For Loss 7 Sacks 2 Pass Break Ups
2009: 14 GP 15 Tackles 1 Tackle For Loss 1 Sack
2008: 13 GP 22 Tackles 3 Tackles For Loss 2 Pass Break Ups
What the experts say
I like him as a 3-4 outside backer who can play on the strong side, take on linemen at the point of attack and also rush the passer. He’s at his best attacking downhill, using his strong hands to disengage and is always around the football. Looks like a year one starter to me at the next level with scheme versatility.
Upshaw did not have a good Combine performance and sat out his Pro Day with a minor injury. His stock has gone down as a result. If Upshaw works out well for teams, he can fix the damage that was done. Upshaw could easily be the first 3-4 outside linebacker to go in the 2012 draft. He is an excellent edge rusher. However at his size, Upshaw could fit as a 4-3 defensive end as well. He has a natural pad level with good strength to shed blocks and the athleticism to weave around tackles.
Tackling: This is the area in which scouts from 4-3 teams will want to see more from Upshaw — there’s little film of him tackling in the open field. Has the lateral agility and balance when breaking down in tight quarters to tackle elusive ballcarriers. Good upper-body strength. Capable of slowing the momentum of the ball carrier with one arm while simultaneously engaged with a blocker. Good effort and speed in pursuit. Physical, explosive tackler who can make the intimidating hit.
Rex Ryan should see Upshaw as a great fit for what he’s trying to do on defense. Upshaw has size to hold up against the run even as a pass-rusher in a 3-4, making him an ideal fit here.
We were disappointed with Upshaw. He struggled during the linebacker drills, where he was required to move his feet and show that he could handle playing off the ball in pass coverage. He was upright and stiff in drops, could not flip his hips to change direction quickly and lacked the explosiveness and burst that NFL teams wanted to see. In our view, his performance clearly showed that he is a power player who lacks the explosiveness and speed to be a threat as an edge pass rusher.
I keep watching the tape, and I know that he doesn’t have the great explosiveness off the ball, I know he’s not an elite athlete. I know he doesn’t really have that burst around the edge, but the guy is always around the ball. He’s tough, he’s physical, and he’s strong versus the run. I think he’s a top 20, 25 pick.
If there is an NFL team looking for the next LaMarr Woodley, they have it in Upshaw. For a 3-4 team, Upshaw could make an immediate impact on three downs. He’s a powerful pass rusher who is hard to block for any period of time. As a senior, Upshaw had 18 tackles for a loss and 9.5 sacks. He often came up big in Alabama’s biggest games, eating defensive MVP honors in the national title game against LSU. A 4-3 team will probably look at Upshaw as an end, a position he’s being used at during Senior Bowl practices. He may not have the mobility required in a 4-3 linebacker.
Upshaw’s game is built upon strength and power. However, his physical dimensions (6-foot-2, 272 pounds) could put him at a disadvantage against NFL offensive tackles, and he doesn’t appear to have elite speed or burst. To convince evaluators he’s worthy of a lofty draft slot, he must run well and look smoother in transitions than he did at the NFL Scouting Combine. If he fails to impress, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Upshaw fall to the bottom of the first round by draft day.
There is legitimate concern regarding Upshaw’s ability to play edge linebacker in the NFL. Charlie Casserly, Russ Lande and Bucky Brooks have all expressed doubts about his ability to take on offensive tackles and drop back into coverage. His 40-yard dash time at the Alabama pro day (4.77) didn’t do much to convince scouts otherwise.
Unless the Jets take a chance on him at No. 16, it’s possible we see a Da’Quan Bowers-like drop for Upshaw.